Duncan Keith

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Jacob Trouba could really make Jets pay with next contract

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This post is part of Jets Day on PHT…

Here’s something you come to realize if you nerd out about the league’s salary cap for long enough: not all bargain contracts are created equal.

Now, look, any GM worth his salt should be able to take advantage of those precious windows where players are exceeding the value of their deals. The 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks are the gold standard in that regard: they won that first contemporary Stanley Cup thanks in part to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being on the last year of their rookie deals, allowing them that extra Dustin Byfuglien here and Brian Campbell there.

If a player is talented and healthy enough, you’ll eventually need to pay up. That’s why there’s some serious wisdom to locking down talented guys to longer deals when they’re especially young. (Just look at how ridiculous the deals look for, say, John Tavares and Duncan Keith.)

The Winnipeg Jets faced some serious contract impasses with Jacob Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt, yet eventually they enjoyed an eye-popping bargain. With the risk of sitting out a season hanging over his head, the RFA leverage was too much for Trouba, who signed for two years and $5 million.

Even with things oddly prorated, that’s a ludicrous steal for Trouba. And, of course, everyone said all the right things when a deal was reached, even as trade rumors festered into November 2016.

“I’ve committed to sign here,” Trouba said while confirming he’s rescinded his trade request, per the Winnipeg Sun. “When I signed that piece of paper, everything changed in my mind.”

A pessimist – and, possibly, a realist – might amend that last bit to “everything changed in my mind … for now.” (Possibly adding in some ominous music.)

When it comes to tough negotiations, we’ve seen some examples of short “bridge” deals that end up costly, and sometimes those same players end up traded somewhere else.

If you’re an emotionally vulnerable Jets fan, maybe just console yourself with Trouba remaining an RFA and scroll to a different post, because these examples might be less than ideal:

P.K. Subban: misses some of 2012-13, signs two-year, $5.75M deal with Montreal. Then he gets $9M per season for eight years, and traded to Nashville before 2016-17.

Ryan O'Reilly: strenuous negotiations lead to $6M at two years, making things awkward with the likes of Matt Duchene. Now makes $7.5M per year with Buffalo after being traded.

Ryan Johansen: Another Overhardt client whose relationship soured with his team. He was ultimately traded to Nashville, where he makes $8M per year thanks to that new deal.

(Note: Overhardt also represented Kyle Turris, who eventually left the Arizona Coyotes, who must wince every time he scores a big goal for the Ottawa Senators. As evidence that there’s another way, Overhardt appears to be Viktor Arvidsson‘s agent, so it’s not like he’ll outright refuse to sign longer deals that might ultimately benefit the teams involved. Of course, Arvidsson never had that contract-dispute-baggage with Nashville so …)

Now, before you claim that Trouba is far below those players, note that he has a season to compile more impressive counting stats with superior defensive partner(s) …. and he already shows potential from a “fancy stats” perspective. He seems to settle nicely into the top defenseman prototype, by HERO chart measures, as just one example:

With the right opportunities, Trouba could really drive up his value. Such motivation could be very beneficial for Winnipeg in 2017-18, but at what cost in the future?

In a recent edition of “The Hockey PDOcast,” Garret Hohl hypothesized that, while Trouba may compare to the likes of Seth Jones, he might end up costing the Jets more than the $5.4M per year that Jones receives with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Beyond sheer inflation, one might ascribe some of that to something of a bitterness tax. The Jets got their bargain and won that battle, but much like with Subban and others, a talented player might just win the war.

Blackhawks need a push from young forwards Hartman, Schmaltz

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This post is part of Blackhawks Day on PHT…

The Chicago Blackhawks got an injection of youth into their group of forwards last season, with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman cracking the roster out of training camp.

Having prospects challenging for and earning roster spots is critical for every team across the league, especially with the speed of today’s game.

The Blackhawks have three Stanley Cup championships since 2010, all won with a core group of players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

But that group, which hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2015, is getting older, which highlights Chicago’s need for its young players like Schmaltz and Hartman to further their offensive contributions this upcoming season and beyond, and for someone like Alex DeBrincat to show well at camp and perhaps earn a spot in the NHL.

There is added pressure on a player like Toews heading into next season, after the lowest goal total of his career. How will Patrick Sharp perform back with this group at age 35? The Blackhawks also won’t have Marian Hossa, which, despite his age, is a huge loss.

That should highlight the need for Hartman, 22, and Schmaltz, 21, to take another step forward in their development.

In 76 games, Hartman had a nice 19-goal, 31-point campaign, his first full season in the NHL. His production dried up in the playoffs, though in fairness to him, the Blackhawks as a team were ultimately outmatched as Pekka Rinne played sensational in goal for Nashville and the Predators completed the sweep.

The 20th overall pick in 2014, Schmaltz played in 61 games for Chicago. His season included a stint in Rockford, where he had a productive six goals and nine points in 12 games before getting recalled to the NHL.

From the time of his recall until the end of the regular season, Schmaltz was able to put together a couple of extended hot streaks, with 12 points in nine games during a stretch from Feb. 8 to March 1, and seven points in six games from March 19-29. Again, Chicago’s brief time in the playoffs was a struggle and Schmaltz wasn’t immune.

There was a point late in the season, however, when coach Joel Quenneville believed Schmaltz made the proper steps forward. Of note, Quenneville has the option of using Schmaltz either on the wing or up the middle, he said earlier this summer.

“There’s definitely a learning curve when you first come into the NHL. Expectations are higher for some guys than others. But him getting down and getting some games [in Rockford], getting more confident offensively and with the puck, he added a little pace and another dimension to his game, we like how he’s playing during this recent stretch,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago.

“We like how he’s handled himself in a situation where, as the season’s gone on here, he’s gone to a different level.”

It would be one less thing for the Blackhawks to worry about if Schmaltz and Hartman took their games to a different level beginning in October.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

In supporting McDavid, Oilers face bigger cap tests than Pens, Blackhawks

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The Edmonton Oilers officially confirmed Connor McDavid‘s contract as the richest in NHL history: eight years at a tidy $100 million.

Remarkably, that $12.5 million cap hit is actually a big break for the Oilers, as McDavid could’ve justifiably demanded more. Either way, what’s next?

GM Peter Chiarelli gave the “no-comment” treatment when asked about Leon Draisaitl, instead praising McDavid for “caring about his teammates.”

Chiarelli’s seen the Blackhawks and Penguins struggle with salary-cap challenges, and the scary thing is that the Oilers must climb a bigger mountain.

Oilers lack some advantages Penguins, Blackhawks enjoyed

As tough as things have been for Chicago and Pittsburgh, Edmonton lacks some of those franchise’s significant edges.

For one thing, signing Sidney Crosby to a 12-year deal with an $8.7 million cap hit wouldn’t be possible today. Edmonton could only sign McDavid for a maximum of eight years, limiting the Oilers’ ability to parallel deals for the likes of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

It’s worth noting that the Blackhawks haven’t won a Stanley Cup since Jonathan Toews‘ and Patrick Kane‘s matching $10.5 million cap hits kicked in, deals that were more costly with the max-year loophole closed.

Yet, even in Chicago’s case, they managed to get a huge-term bargain under its belt during the old CBA. Duncan Keith brings Norris-level defense for a dirt-cheap cap hit of about $5.54 million through 2022-23.

Edmonton must find other opportunities to save money.

Bargains are crucial, and they’re where Chiarelli must “earn his money”

However you slice it, teams must bargain-hunt, and they often need to be creative to make things work.

The Penguins spent assets to land Phil Kessel, and they convinced the Maple Leafs to retain a crucial chunk of his cap hit. They’ve managed to integrate younger players like Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and especially Matt Murray into a mix of established stars. Of course, they’ve also enjoyed some luck along the way, most notably in convincing Marc-Andre Fleury to go to Vegas.

In many ways, Chicago set a template for the Penguins in discovering the likes of Artemi Panarin while also finding success with the likes of Ryan Hartman. Both Stan Bowman and Jim Rutherford have been willing to take chances on players and part ways with guys who weren’t deemed essential.

Such a thought explains why Kris Russell and Milan Lucic stand as polarizing signings; if those two struggle, that’s $10M poorly spent.

Not all bad

Look, Chiarelli faces some difficult challenges, yet he also has some things working in his favor.

Most obviously, this is a largely young core, with players who can improve. It’s reasonable to believe that McDavid and Draisaitl could make other, cheaper wingers better when Edmonton’s budget gets especially tight.

Cam Talbot‘s also been a revelation, and while his $4.2M cap hit expires after two more seasons, it’s a nice bargain to have.

There are also some decent deals on defense.

Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, and Adam Larsson combine for an affordable, solid trio. Klefbom and Larsson are also in their prime years, likely to deliver value for Edmonton going forward.

Once you shake off concerns about Lucic and Russell, the slate is actually fairly clean for Edmonton. That’s especially true if they make another tough call and move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if his $6M is too much to stomach.

***

The Oilers aren’t in an impossible situation, just a very challenging one. With McDavid as a sure thing alongside other nice pieces, it comes down to Chiarelli providing the supporting cast needed to collect some Stanley Cups.

Signing McDavid was the easy part.

After major changes, Bowman believes Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

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CHICAGO — Stan Bowman received a lot of kudos for getting the old Blackhawks defense together for another kick at the can.

But the way it played out, bringing back two aging veterans in Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya was a mistake by the general manager. The magic just couldn’t be recreated, and Chicago was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.

Then came the offseason changes. Not just on the blue line, either. Brandon Saad is back, while Artemi Panarin is gone. Marian Hossa is gone, too — a huge loss for the ‘Hawks, even if he can be put on LTIR.

So the forward group is going to look quite different next season.

The blue line could look very different, though. Oduya and Campbell are both unrestricted free agents and may not be back. Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost in the expansion draft. And last but not least, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote now, traded to Arizona for d-man Connor Murphy.

In other words, of the six defensemen who lost to the Predators, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still under contract in Chicago.

“A lot of stuff going on,” Bowman said Friday at United Center. “Sometimes, change is good. You have to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”

Much will be expected of Murphy, a 24-year-old who’s been toiling in Arizona anonymity since being drafted 20th overall in 2011.

“Connor’s a little bit of a different player (than Hjalmarsson),” said Bowman. “Obviously, he’s a bit bigger, he plays probably a more physical game. But he’s a good skater and he’s six years younger. It’s really hard to find young defensemen like that. He’s got a great contract, too. He’s a guy we’re going to have for a long time.”

Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling will also be expected to take on bigger roles in 2017-18.

“It’s up to them to take hold of it, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for them,” said Bowman. “It’s time to give these guys a chance to grow and take on bigger responsibilities.”

Speaking of young defensemen, the Blackhawks added another to their stable Friday, drafting Henri Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick.

“Henri’s a player we’ve been high on all year,” said Bowman. “A right-shot defenseman. Those are a commodity in today’s game. It’s hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill-set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. I guess what you would term the modern-day defenseman.”

As for Bowman, he believes his big moves have been made. He promised changes, and changes he delivered.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.

Related: Blackhawks sign Czech defenseman Jan Rutta